President Donald Trump signs an executive order on extreme vetting during an event at the Pentagon in Washington, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Susan Walsh

Trump stumbles into international crisis with Muslim ban

— Updated
Kellyanne Conway, a senior aide to the president in Donald Trump's White House, was clearly trying her best yesterday to defend the indefensible. The administration's Muslim ban, announced late Friday, has already sparked international outrage, and Conway had some talking points prepared to put a positive spin on an ugly initiative. Politico reported it this way:
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Sunday that international travel disruptions in the wake of President Donald Trump's executive order restricting immigration from predominantly Muslim nations was a "small price to pay" for greater security.

In an interview on "Fox News Sunday," Conway downplayed the separation of families in the aftermath of the order. "This whole idea that they're being separated and ripped from their families, it's temporary," she said.

Note the lack of a denial. Sure, innocent people are being "ripped from their families" for reasons that seem completely arbitrary and incoherent, but don't worry -- because the administration's punishment of these innocent people is only "temporary."

As part of the same quote, Conway added a gratuitous reference to the 9/11 attacks, unconcerned with a nagging detail: the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and Egypt, and not one of those countries was included in the Trump administration's new policy.

Indeed, of the countries included in Trump's policy, not a single Muslim has ever committed an act of terrorism on American soil. Conway referred to several specific incidents of deadly violence -- San Bernardino, Boston, and Orlando -- without acknowledging that literally none of these attacks would've been prevented by Trump's needlessly cruel executive order.

But that's just part of a breathtaking series of falsehoods, missteps, and misjudgments surrounding the most controversial policy to date associated with the nascent Trump presidency. Let's unpack some of the relevant details.

This policy will make Americans less safe. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said yesterday the president "is not going to apologize for putting the safety of this country first and foremost." Of course, no one would expect such an apology. The problem, however, is that the Muslim ban undermines the country's safety.

The New York Times reported, "Across the Muslim world, the refrain was resounding: President Trump's freeze on refugee arrivals and visa requests from seven predominantly Muslim countries will have major diplomatic repercussions, worsen perceptions of Americans and offer a propaganda boost to the terrorist groups Mr. Trump says he is targeting."

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) explained very well that while ISIS will be thrilled with Trump's latest order, it's also true the policy "is likely to get Americans killed."

Complicating matters further, the United States is now punishing people in the Middle East who've helped us -- including Arabic translators -- and alienating potential allies in the region. We're simultaneously blocking people -- children fleeing ISIS, doctors, filmmakers, et al -- who pose Americans no danger.

For all intents and purposes, this policy is a Muslim ban. The president and his team have insisted this policy is not actually a "Muslim ban," but let's not play games. As a candidate, Trump vowed to implement a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." The Republican reiterated his support for the policy many times, and now Trump World is boasting that the president is following through on his pre-election promises. Trump is doing "exactly what he said he was going to do," Sean Spicer said yesterday.

In other words, Trump promised a Muslim ban, and he's delivering on one, which makes it awfully difficult for the president and his aides to reach for the fainting couch when people refer to this as a Muslim ban.

For that matter, Rudy Giuliani claims he helped shape the policy after Trump specifically asked him to craft a legally permissible "Muslim ban." It's a little late for the White House to try to rebrand this particular idea as anything other than discriminatory.

These people have no idea what they're doing. Trump declared on Saturday night, in reference to his policy, "We were totally prepared. It's working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over."

No sane person could believe this. Almost immediately after the order was announced, there was chaos throughout the system -- most notably "at the airports" -- with officials completely unaware how to implement a policy they knew very little about. Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department were in the dark, in part because no one at these agencies had been consulted or even notified in advance.

We're talking about a policy that was carelessly rushed through, with no due diligence or proper vetting, and without regard for consequences. MSNBC's Chris Hayes, marveling at the Trump administration's "run-and-gun sloppiness," explained the order was "entirely reverse engineered around bigoted, knee-jerk campaign rhetoric." Chris added there didn't appear to be any "actual policy process" at all.

This policy is the basis for a stunning international incident. According to German officials, Chancellor Angela Merkel had to remind Trump over the weekend "that the Geneva Convention on refugees obliges all member states to take in those fleeing war."

This, evidently, is what's it come to: an American president needing a refresher by a foreign leader about the Geneva Conventions -- which he was dismissive of as a candidate, despite knowing nothing about them.

Elsewhere around the globe, Trump's policy has been met with public revulsion, which will carry its own costs.

The conflicts of interest surrounding this policy deserve scrutiny. There are countries in the Middle East where Trump's company, which he still owns, has business interests. None of them is affected by the new White House policy. These are exactly the kinds of conflicts of interest that have long worried ethics experts, and a congressional hearing or two would be a no-brainer under normal political circumstances.

This policy has further inspired vigorous progressive activism. Two weeks ago, progressive activists turned out in force in support of the Affordable Care Act. Last week, millions participated in women's marches. And over the weekend, many Americans again took to the streets -- and to the airports -- in large numbers to protest Trump's Muslim ban. If the White House was counting on the left being complacent in a time of Republican dominance, Trump World is going to be disappointed.

The fight is just getting started. The initial court fights went the left's way on Saturday, but those were temporary, relatively narrow victories, with several additional rounds to go.

Meanwhile, the fight in Congress will begin in earnest today. The Washington Post reported yesterday, "Democrats vowed Sunday to introduce legislation to reverse President Trump's orders implementing a travel ban from certain countries, with at least one senator saying the moves should lead to slower consideration of the president's top Cabinet nominees."

The article added that the aforementioned Chris Murphy "plans to introduce a bill that would overturn Trump's orders by forcing him to comply with the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which banned discrimination against immigrants on the basis of national origin." Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is crafting similar legislation. Whether any congressional Republicans will sign on to the bills is unclear.

Blaming Obama won't work. In a White House statement last night, Trump said, “My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months.” Nice try, but no.

The White House is painfully unaware of symbolism. First, Trump announced his Muslim ban, specifically targeting refugees, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Second, Trump hosted a movie screening at the White House yesterday for staffers and their families, and the featured film was Disney's "Finding Dory" -- which happens to be about a family facing great challenges and hardships while trying to reunite.

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

On NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday, Reince Priebus added that the White House is entirely satisfied with the policy's unveiling, adding that Trump administration officials "apologize for nothing." Perhaps that's part of the problem.